In their shoes

May 21, 2014, Vol: 21, No: 21

On May 18, we laid out 3,123 pairs of shoes in Westlake Park. Our goal was to make the numbers of unsheltered homeless people visible, and we also wanted to get people to sign our petition that asks county and city leaders to lower the 2015 unsheltered count by 1,000 persons.

In the center of the display were 180 kids’ shoes. Last year, this many of the 6,188 homeless kids enrolled in King County school districts were listed as “unsheltered.”

Looking at all those little shoes, one could not help but feel just how wrong that really is.

It was sunny out, and lots of shoppers and tourists stopped to take pictures. Some of them were from from cruise ships. One Aussie tourist reported that the minimum wage there is $700 a week. Several of them said that in their country, homelessness on this scale was unthinkable.

But then, America is a special kind of crazy. So many homeless people, it’ll make your head spin.

As soon as we started laying down shoes, needy people who walk a lot started asking for them. We anticipated that. Redeeming Soles, our event partner that collects and distributes shoes to homeless people, was on hand with 800 extra pairs to give away. Most of those went over the six hours we were there.

Stop and think about this. On a Sunday afternoon in May, you can plunk down a table in Westlake Plaza and give away hundreds of pairs of used shoes to people who are desperate for them. This is normal.

It should not be like this. Not when the Louis Vuitton and Gucci storefronts are just a few blocks away. This much luxury and misery, side by side, elbowing each other for room, is not good for any of us.

The disposable poor in America have been tossed aside and aren’t coming back. Most haven’t shown up in the economic data for years.

And so, they are punished and immiserated. We grind their faces into the dirt until their noses bleed, and then we hate them for just being there.

We tear down their tents and throw away their stuff. We outlaw their feeding programs and move them out of sight. We tow their cars to impound and charge them more than they have to get them back.

We slap them around for poverty crimes like fare-jumping, drug possession, panhandling and public urination, and we issue fines they can’t pay.

And when they make a mistake, we pounce. We throw them into the grinder of our judicial and prison system and brand them as felons, so that for the rest of their lives, every time they try to work or get housing, we’re there to say, “No, you are last in line. Forever.”

To contain them, we build a dehumanizing shelter system that’s overcrowded, scary and filled with bugs that bite, and leave people there for months and sometimes years on end. What we communicate in this is: “You don’t count.”

The poverty we see on our streets goes to the value we ascribe to certain lives. The root of our problem is there.

More emergency shelter won’t fix this, but it will make a difference to those who have none. Find our petition at by clicking on the OutsideIN logo. And while you’re on our site, please support the Real Change fund drive.

Everyday, we take action to make things a little better.

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